Faith evidently plays a significant part in psychotherapy. Whatever school one follows, the 'therapeutic alliance' is important. In some forms of therapy it is virtully the be-al-and-end-all of the work. Such an alliance rests upon the faith that the client has in the therapist and this substantially reflects the faith the the therapist has in the client. In fact, therapy substantially consists in a relationship in which the therapist has faith in the client, often in ways and to a degree that the client himself does not have.

When we say 'has faith in the client' we are referring to the client in his life. A person is always situated. All the ordinary aspects of life are conditional. In practice, therefore, this means that the faith that the therapist has in the client is a faith that the client can cope with the circumstances that are arising for him, no matter how extreme of grievous they may be. This is what is sometimes called 'unconditional positive regard'. In order for this faith to have credibility, the therapist must enter into the life of the client to such an extent that she has an easy familiarity with and feeling for the 'world' of the client. In effect, therefore, the work is quite object related. The therapist 'stands alongside the client' as the client goes forth into his life.

However, from a spiritual point of view it is worth distinguishing between ordinary circumstance and eternal things. When we talk of anshin we are not just talking about ordinary confidence. We are talking about a faith that transcends the ordinary. In reality, only such a faith can really be 'unconditional'. In practice, ordinary human beings such as ourselves are not totally unconditional. However, if we life a spiritual life we do have confidence in something beyond, something that, perhaps, remains mysterious to us, but, nonetheless, we regard as ultimately, not merely circumstantially, reliable. This is what is called taking refuge.

So it is because the therapist takes refuge that she is able to provide unconditional support. This does not mean that she will be perfect in every response or accomplish some amazing ideal. It means, rather, that there is something deep within the meeting that cannot be explained in ordinary ways.

These two levels refer to what in Buddhism is sometimes called 'the two truths' which are 'relative truth' and 'absolute truth'. This is not really a philosophical notion, it is more an experience. The two levels do interact. It is her faith in the transcendent refuge that enables the therapist to let go to a sufficient degree and really enter into the client's 'relative world" and it is because she can and does do so that the client subliminally picks up that there is something more than just ordinary 'relative' confidence operating here. In the best case this results in the client also finding a refuge that transcends ordinary life circumstance. When this happens, therapy and spirituality merge. In lesser cases, the therapist's faith in the holding power of refuge is sufficient to give the client ordinary confidence so that he goes through whatever life trial it is in a way that brings him to growth and constructive change rather than defeat.

In either case, the client emerges with more faith than he had before. He might or might not have words for this, might or might not have a spiritual practice of his own. If he does, then he will have a vocabulary for talking about such things. However, even if he does not, still the increase in faith operating in his life will be an asset that will benefit him in many ways, not just in the matter discussed in therapy, but in all dimensions of life.

Note: I have referred to the therapist as 'she' and the client as 'he' for simplicity and clarity, but the principles apply whatever the gender of each party.

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